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Alienware m9700 review: Alienware m9700

The Good Excellent performance from twin graphics cards; 17-inch widescreen display.

The Bad Smallish hard drive; niggling issues with the case design; slightly dated looks; no GTX upgrade option for graphics.

The Bottom Line The m9700 is without a doubt an extremely capable laptop that'll crush most of the competition. Twin 512MB 7900GS SLI graphics did impress at medium resolutions, but can clam up when maxed out on today's most demanding titles. Still a good machine, but you may want to consider a more basic spec to save some cash

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8.3 Overall

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Alienware prides itself on never getting left behind in the gaming arena, and is usually first on the scene when a new graphics configuration or technology hits the market. But its latest creation stands out for another reason -- it's finished in a rather garish 'Cyborg Green'.

The basic m9700 spec costs just under £1,200, but Alienware seems to have gone nuts with its online configuration tool and sent us the souped up version, which will set you back £2,028. Notable for its high-speed processor and twin 512MB GeForce Go 7900 GS graphics, it looks like every gamer's dream but how does it fare under a scrutinous eye?

Design
Despite arriving in a box large enough to house a grand piano, the m9700 is relatively light for such a big machine, at least by power laptop standards. It's still a desktop replacement, but weighs in at just under 4kg, which should give you ample time to reach your next LAN party before your spine crumbles under the strain.

Alienware undoubtedly produces the most distinctive laptops around, but the m9700 takes a more traditional approach in its case design. Gone are the James Cameron-esque Alien claws of the Elite Assassin range, here you'll find classic black-rubber lines accompanying a choice of green, blue or silver casing. This Cybork Green model costs £63 more than the basic silver model. The distinctive Alienware logo still lights up the lid, but this m9700 is more a design statement than a hallmark of quality.


The distinctive rubber grips make the laptop slightly easier to lift and carry

When you open the thing up you start to notice how big it actually is -- the full-sized keyboard only takes up around half of the real estate on the base, along with a generous, but ultimately frustrating, mouse trackpad that's made of the same high-gloss plastic as the case itself. It may look nice and coordinated, but the gloss finish on the pad means it doesn't feel as nice to use as traditional textured trackpads.

You'll find a typical array of connectivity littered around the sides of the case in no apparent order. USB ports are conveniently located on three of the four sides and a roll-wheel volume control makes for easy adjustments to the built-in surround sound. The front houses two speakers and a DVD drive, but we question the use of a sliding tray design here as it's rather easy to flick the open/close switch by accident and can be awkward if you're actually using it on your lap.


There's a good mix of audio connectors on the right side of the laptop


Features
The big performance shout with the m9700 is undoubtedly the SLI configuration. Alienware has strapped together two 512MB GeForce Go 7900 GS cards into this £2,000 version and it certainly shows. Power moguls may bemoan the lack of a top-end GTX-badged card, but the price hike between the GS and GTX is an unreasonable one for all but the most hardcore of gamers. It's difficult to find fault with the core specification, though -- 2GB of RAM and a 2.2GHz processor are difficult to argue with. 

The 17-inch widescreen display is great for gaming and looks great when running at its full 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution, but its reflective Clearview coating doesn't make for great viewing if using the laptop in broad daylight. If you're on a train or near a window, for example, reflections are all too prominent. We'll forgive it this drawback though as the laptop is mainly designed for indoor use -- anyone who dares take its garish green chassis outdoors runs the risk of being attacked by bees. DVI, VGA and S-video outputs give you plenty of options for connecting an external monitor if the screen's 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution proves restrictive, which it shouldn't.

Above the screen you'll find a 1.3-megapixel digital camera for Web conferencing, or to take photos of you looking mean while fragging all and sundry. There's also a four-in-one card reader, gigabit Ethernet and a 56K V.92 Modem for those poor souls who don't have broadband.

We were slightly miffed at the inclusion of the 80GB hard drive, which is almost an insult in a laptop costing £2,000. It absolutely pales in comparison with the dual 120GB drives in machines such as the Dell XPS M2010, but some may take (small) solace with the inclusion of an 8x dual-layer DVD burner, which in this case is installed at the front of the laptop, between a pair of speakers.

The front-facing speakers mean sound won't be muffled if you decide to listen to music with the lid closed, plus the on-board high-definition audio card will let you connect surround-sound speakers to complete a pretty comprehensive home cinema gaming experience.


Above the keyboard there are shortcut buttons for launching applications and adjusting video and audio playback

Performance
We tested the laptop with a variety of real world and synthetic benchmarks and it proved its worth every time.  It scored 5,434 in 3DMark 2006, F.E.A.R. ran at a blistering 96fps at 1,024x768 pixels, and only dropped to 72fps at 1,600x1,200 pixels. Those willing to sacrifice power could save some cash by dropping the SLI option, which after all adds close to £400 to the price of this laptop, but where's the fun in that?

Core performance was good too. The m9700 proved it's not just a gaming machine by racking up 3,441 in PCMark 2005 -- which just goes to show it won't shy away from running demanding applications. There's one drawback though -- the SLI graphics and a 64-bit processor don't power themselves, so you won't want to venture far from a mains outlet. In our tests the laptop lasted 93 minutes before requiring a recharge.

Edited by Rory Reid
Additional editing by Kate Macefield

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